BLOG: Petroplan’s Wellbeing Journey

BLOG: Petroplan’s Wellbeing Journey

Summer 2023

Photo caption: Jeff, Petroplan’s Senior VP for Client Development, uses his volunteering leave to assist in sorting food at the Houston Food Bank

Petroplan is a global energy recruitment company with offices around the world, including in Guildford. A long-time supporter of Oakleaf and member of our Mental Health Leaders Network, the company’s HR team has been on a mission to support employee wellbeing and drive forward initiatives that foster a culture of support and care.

Oakleaf’s Jen Clay sat down with Suzie Lambert, Petroplan’s Global HR Manager, to discuss the company’s mental health and wellbeing journey.

Can you first share a bit about Petroplan – the business’ purpose, size and your role within the company?

As a global company, Petroplan has offices in seven countries, however our overall headcount is fairly small – we have roughly 90 staff in total, including 50 people in the UK. We aim to connect great talent, supporting clients to find the right people in the energy sphere, including within renewable energy.

My role sits on our HR team, and I have worked at Petroplan for 10 years! I look after the day-to-day HR function including wellbeing and staff engagement.

Tell us a bit about where the mental health and wellbeing journey at Petroplan began.

Ever since I have worked here, it has had a ‘family feel’; the founders have always been involved and created a compassionate culture which has carried on over the years. Additionally, our medical plans have included mental health cover since the beginning – the leadership really cares.

Covid and changes from the pandemic brought more awareness of how we can and should be doing more. Isolation and the difficulties of supporting people from afar were highlighted and from this, in 2022 we started to build and formalise our wellbeing plan.

Another change we made was to move from one annual engagement survey to quarterly, short and easy surveys. We started to collect ideas from the surveys, and this was aided by beginning to use HiBob as a HR software, which also allows you to create custom surveys and collect responses anonymously. We found our response rates are now fairly high; they started at 54% and now have gone up 70%. We have also started to follow up these surveys with focus groups.

Since the pandemic, what steps have you taken to address mental health and wellbeing?

First of all, we joined Oakleaf’s Mental Health Leaders Network which has given us dedicated time and attention for wellbeing as well as the opportunity to get out of the office and talk to others in the network, bounce ideas off others and validate some actions we are taking.

Then, starting in the summer of 2022, we started to formalise our support. First, we started by listing everything we currently offered and looked at whether people were aware of it or making use of it.

From this, we worked out gaps. We implemented both large and small initiatives, from fruit and plants in the office – which we didn’t think people would care about, but they do! – to updating policies to ensure mental health and wellbeing are explicitly included and that we are upfront about support before it is needed.

For example, we updated our sickness policy to include menopause and mental health in greater detail. We added compassionate leave for miscarriage. We created volunteering and sabbatical policies. We then pulled together an ‘e-leaflet’, to ensure staff know what is offered, and what support they can receive.

We also started talking about mental health and wellbeing more – this stemmed from engagement at the CEO level. Of course, we didn’t have high engagement in our wellbeing programme from day one – people listened, but it wasn’t as if people were jumping from excitement – however it has built slowly over time and become part of our ethos.

Finally, another key piece to the puzzle for us is working with line managers; we have about 25 at the moment. While levels of awareness and experience vary, there is a culture of keenness to support their teams. This, again, comes from a willingness from leadership to support people as individuals and show interest in staff as people – this in turn empowers line managers to do the same.

We hope to conduct some mental health line manager training this year and are also putting together a line manager guide on expectations and responsibilities.

In your experience, what are some of the most significant issues or challenges that staff face in this area?

The biggest challenge we see is around how to look after the wellbeing of people who are more isolated or physically spread out; supporting people in a large office environment is simply more straightforward. For example, we just opened an office in Malaysia late last year the time difference makes it harder to get time with them.

We try to encourage line managers to do more one-to-one check ins with staff when they are in an office that is further out, or are working remotely. We also use quite an individual approach to support more remote teams, understanding that it should not be a one-size-fits-all solution in this space. I believe in a human, empathetic approach to each person.

Caitlin, Petroplan’s Talent Partner for North America, organises donations for the West Houston Alliance Ministry after successfully coordinating a clothing drive at the office.

Can you share some successful initiatives that have positively impacted the company, and any that have not worked as well or have faced challenges?

One initiative which has been well received is our ‘Happiness Hour’ which gives people back one hour of certain working weeks, helping people relax and bring happiness! For example, people might take this hour to go for a walk, have a meal with a friend or go to the spa or gym.

Volunteering leave (we offer all staff 1 day to volunteer per quarter) didn’t take off at first but is now growing bigger after a few offices started doing it. For example, our Houston office all volunteered together at a food bank recently.

Another successful initiative is our virtual wellbeing drop-ins, which have been running every two to three weeks at different times of day since April. This involves either myself or Lauren (we are both Mental Health First Aiders) offering a confidential call to anyone, about anything. We clear our diaries and people call us on Teams without needing to schedule it beforehand.

We tend to get one or two calls every time, ranging from people who are having a tough day, people who are looking for advice or perhaps just want to ask questions about the wellbeing offering. This helps by showing the business that talking about mental health and wellbeing is something people should do!

We also try to build up a culture of taking lunch breaks and encourage people to take time back if they need to work late.

Some people have loved the office plants, and others not so much (not every office has a reliable waterer!) but overall, we have had very positive feedback on all our initiatives.

What indicators or measures of staff wellbeing do you use or observe while continuing this work?

The survey is a big one, which I mentioned earlier. We use several of the same questions each time – and then a few topical questions – so we can easily compare results. These results are then shared in our regular newsletter, plus our CEO talks through the results in an update call. On this call, people also have the opportunity to ask the CEO anonymous questions. Additionally, recent focus groups we’ve implemented have been helpful to measure wellbeing.

Finally, exit interviews are very important to us. We are very clear we want to hear it all – good and bad – and if people wish for information to remain confidential within the HR team that is absolutely fine.

What advice would you give a fellow SME who wishes to do more to address these topics but are resource-limited or unsure where to start?

Start by taking stock of what you already have in place, and make sure people know about, and understand, this support. Then, look at the gaps. Ask people what they want! A lot of our ideas are low cost but have a potentially big impact – for example, our Happiness Hour is ‘cheap’ but is a big morale booster and contributes to building a positive culture.

Also, remember wellbeing initiatives are not a substitute for appropriate workload levels, sensible remuneration and managers who engage and care. Keep working on these alongside wellbeing – and don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it all right all the time! The small things are appreciated but need to go alongside the big things.

If you are trying to set up a wellbeing programme, keep at it – you don’t see results instantly. It was gradual for us, but we’re now seeing more wellbeing conversations taking place, uptake is growing, and our approach is continuously evolving. Small steps can lead to a big impact!

Petroplan is a member of Oakleaf’s Mental Health Leaders Network –  a business group dedicated to supporting workplace mental health and wellbeing for Surrey-based SMEs. All membership fees to the network help fund Oakleaf’s charitable work, providing a range of vital activities to support local people managing their mental health. Find out more about the network here.

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